By Monica Staton
Drummer Peter Manheim has the ability to play a range of styles flowing from jazz to funk to R&B and hip-hop without compromising his tone. His sound is timeless. He’s played with the Ron Perillo Trio, with cutting-edge fusion bands—and he has accompanied singer Maggie Brown at the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Manheim also incorporates Footwork into his style of play—music that originated in the ’90s on the West and South Sides of Chicago, that drives a high-energy style of dance.
Manheim attended Evanston Township High School; in 2008 he studied music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. After college Manheim spent six months in Brazil, where he studied with percussionists Nei Sacramento and Nenê. Manheim now lives in New York and is a working musician.
Currently he plays with Resavoir, a collective of Chicago artists and improvisers who perform songs written and directed by trumpeter Will Miller.
You play energetic, emotional, complicated patterns calmly, while appearing to maintain serenity….
It’s definitely a goal of mine. I like to embody the emotions of the music as much as I can but I try to do that mentally more than physically if I can.
That’s something I’ve been working on a lot in the last four years. The drummers I looked up to, who looked very cool, also played with emotional intensity. Not stiff, but focused on the music…drummers like Dana Hall, George Fludas, also other great drummers that I look up to like Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones, and Paul Motian. The purpose of their bodies was to serve the music. I would like my body to do what’s needed, to serve the music.
I’ve worked on this since I’ve left Chicago. I’ve worked on the Alexander Technique which teaches improved posture and movement, and some more body awareness kinds of things.
When did you decide to play drums?
It was seventh grade, age twelve. My first instrument was piano. I don’t know exactly what sparked my interest in drums. I just thought it was cool—I like the drums.
When did you decide to pursue drumming as a career?
By junior year in high school, music was the center of my life. By then, I'd been going to jazz summer programs such as NHSMI (Northwestern High School Music Institute), and the Eastman School of Music Summer Jazz Program. I didn’t think about it too much until I had to make a decision about college. I have never had that serious of a doubt—I never had a plan B. I never wanted to do anything else.
Was your family always supportive?
They saw how hard I was working at it. If they thought I wasn’t serious enough, they wouldn’t have been as supportive.
What was your first drum set?
My first drum set was a Yamaha Stage Custom Advantage Standard 5-piece
drum set. It was green, with a 22-inch bass drum.
I had a group of best friends early in high school. Some of them also started playing instruments around the same time. They were into rock, metal, and punk rock. I was into classic rock from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as Metallica and Iron Maiden. A friend made a rehearsal spot in his attic; we’d go up there and play.
We were doing it for fun. I quickly got more serious. I really started practicing. I was a part of a band called Noble Squares around my junior year of high school. It was a lot of original music. We would play around Evanston, we had an EP, it was a nice little rock band.
Why did you decide to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music?
I can’t remember how I found Oberlin. One of the people I really wanted to study with was Billy Hart. He taught at Oberlin and it seemed like a very welcoming atmosphere.
Why did you want to study with Billy Hart?
I would listen to his recordings. There was one performance in particular that I loved from a Herbie Hancock record called V.S.O.P. It was a reunion night in which Herbie Hancock played with several bands—one called the Mwandishi. I loved Billy Hart’s playing on that. His playing was a mix of a lot of things. I really resonate with his feel; it is amazing.
Hart can play very open, interactively, and creatively—but also has a really strong groove. Those are the things I value the most. There’s not a limit to what he does. That’s why Hart is so well-known; not very many drummers do both and he does both in his own way. He’s very unique.
How do you navigate self-doubt and uncertainty in the music business?
That’s something I’m constantly working on. I’m a pretty critical person and I think the harder I work the better I feel. If I’m putting my all into it then that helps. When I feel like I’m making progress then I’m not as hard on myself.
How does progress sound?
I record myself a lot, including most of my gigs. I go in phases. It’s tricky because I tend to get in my head. It doesn’t help, but if I like what I hear, or I can hear things that I’ve improved, then that helps. It’s tough. I never feel like I’m working hard enough. As much as I can be hard on myself, I do feel like when I perform, I get good feedback. I used to be in the mode that many self-critical musicians can get caught in—where it’s hard to take a compliment.
I judge my performances more now on how they affect others. There’s a fear that if I accept what they say then I won’t work on things I need to work on; if I think too highly of myself then I won’t evolve or improve. Positive feedback can be the best way to improve. It all ties to self-consciousness—learning to accept compliments and believe in them.
Who are a few of your mentors?
Billy Hart gave me more time than he needed to, he was really available. He was committed to music. I learned a lot about how he approaches the drums, his theories, about where music is heading and where modern jazz came from. I just got a lot of confidence from being with him. He really believed in me in a way that I hadn’t. He’s a hero of mine.
Another person that always helped me out was Dennis Carroll. I used to see him play every week with Ron Perillo and Dana Hall. One of the most important parts of my development was seeing Ron Perillo’s trio play at Pete Miller’s in Evanston. I grew up in Evanston; it just happened that the best music in the city was being played there every Tuesday night. My friend (pianist) Dan Pierson and I would go there every week. We’d watch them play for hours. Dennis knew we were musicians and we’d talk to him a little bit; he would often give us an artist to check out, like Philly Joe Jones, or certain records. He was really generous in giving us direction. He turned us on to a lot of great stuff.
By spending time with Dennis Carroll, I got an insight into what he valued and I think it’s a lot of the same things I value—groove and feel, playing things that feel good. When it really comes down to it that’s what I value, by far more than anything else. I didn’t intellectualize it that much at the time but thinking back, that what’s stuck.
How is the underlying rhythmic structure and aesthetic of jazz changing?
The way that I’ve seen it change most in the last ten to twenty years is through the use of electronics. Jazz has always taken the rhythm of popular music and mixed them with other things. In the last ten years popular music has been predominately electronic rhythm—programmed drums. And, it was more stiff, on the grid. So people started playing more and more like machines.
Computers came to take away drummers’ jobs and drummers are trying to take it back. Recently in the last ten years or more, the trend in programmed drums is to add more of a human feel to it, a looser way of playing. J Dilla was someone that drummers and musicians understand. People like Flying Lotus as well of a lot of hip-hop producers…use different textures that are not commonly used on drums, definitely not in jazz. Now you see a lot of drummers that have different effect cymbals, putting different things on the drums. Everyone has shells or their hi-hats, cymbals stacked together. A lot of that comes from electronic music. I’m personally influenced by Footwork music—particularly DJ Rashad, DJ Manny, Traxman, DJ Spinn, and RP Boo.
Have you played with Footwork artists?
I’d like to find a way to do my version of it and if there’s a way to collaborate with one of those guys in the crew it would be amazing. I’ve added some of those rhythms to Will’s music. Whenever I put my own band together there’s going to be some of that for sure.
You’ve been a part of several notable bands: the Samuel Mosching Trio, vocalist Maggie Brown’s band, Possibilities, and currently Resavoir. How have you contributed to each project?
Samuel Mosching Trio: (Guitarist) Sam is a very thoughtful player but also a very intuitive player. We were on a similar wavelength. Sam’s music is often really complex and sometimes really simple. I didn’t want the simple songs to necessarily sound different from the complex songs, so I played in a way that made the complex songs feel relaxed, but intense when needed. Even if his songs changed time signatures every bar, I would aim to make it feel good and aim for the listener not to realize that it’s doing that.
Maggie Brown: That music was very different from a lot of the music I was playing. It was definitely jazz-based—a lot of Oscar Brown compositions—it also had R&B and blues influences. That gig was unique in that I was playing more styles. It was more of a roots-based music that was a challenge in itself to me to simplify, but I was able to add my personality to the music.
Possibilities: That’s a band that started at Oberlin in 2009. We started as a coached ensemble. An amazing drummer and teacher named Paul Samuels was our combo coach. We started playing jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. During one of our rehearsals Samuels suggested we all solo at the same time. We did that and it turned us into going outside of our comfort zones and interacting—that became our sound. We were all going in and out of our respective instrumental roles.
Resavoir: We’ve been playing since last year. I previously played with Will Miller and multi-instrumentalist Lane Beckstrom in a band called Cecil. For Resavoir, Jeremy Cunningham and I both play drums. I have been switching between drum set and hand percussion and Jeremy has been switching between drum set and electronic drums. There’s a record coming soon. The first single, “Resavoir,” has been released—it’s on Spotify. It’s on the International Anthem label. I do a lot of different things on it, it’s just me on the drums and I play percussion and a lot of Footwork on it, electronic-sounding stuff and some Elvin Jones-inspired swing. If someone wanted to get an overview of what I do then that would be it.
How do you describe Resavoir’s music?
Resavoir’s music is made up of people coming from a jazz background and it is inspired also by other music, but I would call it jazz. Most of it is arranged but there’s a lot of improvisation. There are great soloists in the band like Irving Pierce, the saxophone player. There’s a lot of soloing over a lot of modern textures. It’s in the tradition of jazz—it’s just taking some more modern ideas, production technique, and aesthetic.
Resavoir will appear at the Logan Square Arts Festival on June 30th: 3200 W. Logan Blvd., between Milwaukee Ave. and Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, 60647